Five days before a trip to Los Angeles, Sporting Kansas City infused its offense with a old friend, with a player intended to occupy the top of the formation.
But by the time Krisztian Nemeth made his season debut with Sporting KC late Saturday, the offense didn’t need him. Its work was already done.
Sporting KC pulled out a second straight road victory, a 2-0 result Saturday against expansion-side Los Angeles FC.
Gerso Fernandes scored in the 17th minute, and Ilie Sanchez added another from the penalty spot in the 66th minute, the equation to the club’s fifth road victory. After five games without a win, Sporting KC (11-6-6) has produced back-to-back shutouts on the road.
“Things are starting to turn in our favor,” captain Matt Besler said in a phone interview. “We put together two complete performances the last two games and have been able to go into difficult environments and win games.
“I’ve said all along that we never lost the belief. I think it’s important right now for us to gain confidence from these two games, but we have to stay grounded and keep our heads down and focus on what’s next.”
The month of August greeted a Sporting KC club saddled in a five-match winless streak, a skid responsible for a free fall in the Western Conference standings with the toughest stretch of the schedule looming.
Sporting KC has responded with six points in two road matches, charging back into the mix for one of the top seeds in the West. Coupled with its defeat of Houston a week ago, Sporting KC moved within three points of first-place FC Dallas, though Sporting has played one additional match. FC Dallas will play Seattle on Sunday.
The similarity in the last two wins resides in the defense and a healthy lineup. After a two-month struggle defensively in which the club was hampered by injuries, Sporting KC has shut out two Western Conference opponents. And that was a particularly daunting task Saturday. LAFC (10-7-6) has been blanked only three times this year, the fewest in MLS. It did not place a shot on goal in the initial 70 minutes before goalkeeper Tim Melia stood tall late for his ninth shutout.
LAFC lost for the first time at home this season.
“When we have our full selection available to us, we’re good,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview. “I think that’s what the difference in the game is right now. I think we were just very good.”
The addition of Nemeth two days before the summer transfer window closed was a virtual non-factor in his first appearance. He replaced Diego Rubio in the 76th minute Saturday, but only after Rubio put in a tireless effort.
Fernandes secured the far post in the 17th minute for his third goal of the season, but the brunt of the work was shouldered by Rubio, who won the ball, worked his way through a pair of defenders and lay a pass at the feet of Fernandes. Rubio has four assists in limited time this season.
“I thought it was his best game of the year,” Vermes said of Rubio. “I thought he was excellent. I didn’t take him off because he wasn’t playing well — I took him off because he gave us so much ... that he was out of gas.”
The trip to Los Angeles FC supplied Benny Feilhaber his first chance to play against his former team. Feilhaber, who played for Sporting KC for five seasons before a winter trade landed him in his home California, wore the captain’s armband Saturday. Feilhaber has three goals and four assists this season, playing in a deeper midfield role than the one in which he played in Kansas City.
Feilhaber visited with his former teammates on the field after the match. In a postgame TV interview, Sporting KC defender Ike Opara wore Feilhaber’s jersey.
Opara was one of the significant contributors to the clean sheet.
“It was just a matter of executing better than some of the games in the past, and so everyone was on the same page tonight,” Besler said. “We made it difficult for them to break us down. I think we had good balance, and we saw tonight that if we’re able to combine those factors, we’re very confident we can get wins.”